Some body parts are more prone to injury than others. The hamstring is unfortunately one of those, and likes to act up at every opportunity! Just like every type of injury to tissue in the body the more pressure it’s under, the more likely there will be damage.
The hamstring muscles are located on the back of your upper leg, and attach from the lower part of your pelvis down to the back of your knee. Their function is primarily to flex your knee, and extend the hip.
A hamstring injury is a strain or a tear to the tendons or large muscles on the back of your upper leg. There are 3 grades of hamstring injury:
- Grade 1 which is mild muscle strain or pull
- Grade 2 a partial muscle tear
- Grade 3 a complete muscle tear
A hamstring injury can occur if any of the tendons or muscles has been stretched beyond their limit. This can often occur during sudden, explosive movements, such as sprinting or lunging. An injury can also occur more gradually during slower movements that over stretch your hamstring. It is not uncommon that hamstring injuries reoccur, especially in high level athletes.
How do I know if I’ve injured my hamstring?
Mild hamstring strains (grade 1) will usually cause sudden pain in the back of your thigh. It may be painful to move your leg, but the strength of the muscle shouldn’t be affected.
Partial hamstring tears (grade 2) are usually more painful and tender. There may also be some swelling and bruising at the back of your thigh and you may experience some loss of strength in your leg.
Severe hamstring tears (grade 3) will usually be very painful, tender, swollen and bruised. There may have been a “popping” sensation at the time of the injury and you’ll be unable to use the affected leg.
During the first two or three days, you should care for your injury by following the steps below, also known as ‘RICE’.
- Rest – keep your leg as still as you possibly can and avoid physical activity.
- Ice – apply cold packs (Ice bags work perfectly) to your hamstring for 15 to 20 minutes every two to three hours during the day. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin as it can ‘burn’ your skin.
- Compression – compress or bandage the thigh to limit any swelling and movement that could cause further damage.
- Elevation – keep your leg raised and supported on a pillow as much as possible, this will help reduce any swelling.
Gentle Exercises and Stretches
Returning to strenuous exercise too quickly could make your injury worse, but avoiding exercise for too long can cause your hamstring muscles to shrink and scar tissue to form around the tear.
To avoid this, you should start doing gentle hamstring stretches after a few days, when the pain has started to subside. We would recommend applying kinesiology tape to the affected area, to provide support and promote recovery (See our blog: Making the most of your kinesiology). The SpiderTech pre cuts are perfect for this as they come in a hamstring specific cut.
This should be followed by a programme of gentle exercise, such as walking or cycling, introducing some specific hamstring strengthening exercises will also help. Many people need to avoid sports for at least a few weeks, but the length of time you need off will depend on the severity of your injury.
Many hamstring injuries happen during high intensity training. When training for intensity by engaging in sprints or hill sessions always be sure to warm up first (See blog: why we warm up and cool down). Getting the muscles warmed up is very important especially in the winter as it will prevent any sudden strains.
As well as warming up, it’s also important to ensure you progress the levels of speed and distance you work on. Also consider power exercises in a gym or at home with your own equipment to join speed and strength together.